Behind Closed Doors

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I’ve always been one of those people that, for some reason, others instinctively turn to and open up about some of their deepest, most heartbreaking wounds. It’s a trust I don’t take lightly. But it can be heavy.

I think, as human beings, all of us long to be able to share some of our darkness with someone. But most of the time we don’t. Usually out of fear. A lack of trust. 

The fears are well-founded a lot of times. There are those vultures among us that seem to thrive on pain, chaos, drama. The ones who love to “know things” – have something against you. 

While I am as authentic as I can be most of the time, or try to be, there are things that only a handful of people know about me. My past. My present. Some things will stay between me and God, forever.

And we all have things like that. Some have more than others.

My point is, in a world filled with images, the ones we try to present to the world and convince it (and sometimes ourselves) they are true, there is always something behind the eyes.

We’re often so wrapped up in ourselves that we don’t see what’s right in front of us. But more often than that, we simply choose not to look.

All God’s children got to deal with their own, right?

Wrong.

Compassion. Love. These are choices. If we wait to express them only when we feel them, we are destined to live a very shallow life. And I think we all know how I feel about shallow living.

The thing is, it doesn’t take a monumental amount of effort to show people we care. It can feel to us like it does, but most of us just get out of practice. And good habits are harder to start than bad ones.

I know people that are living with chronic illness, mental and/or physical. People who are caretakers, and fighting like hell to just keep their heads above water. Marriages that are struggling. Families that are divided. People who are lonely…..so lonely. Minds and hearts that are tormented behind a painted-on smile. 

Do you see those things? Do you notice? Do you care?

It is so true that we have no idea, most of the time, what battles people are facing. Many people just don’t share those details. Not publicly. But they might, with one other person, if they had a person. Someone who wouldn’t judge or offer clichĂ©s. 

We can’t be all things to all people. This is a struggle that I deal with all the time. I want to help. To be that friend. To provide that comfort. 

But I am only one person. And I have my own battles too.

My husband accuses me of psychoanalyzing everything. He’s right. I do. I seem hardwired to question, try to understand the inner workings of people’s actions, words, and motivations. 

I can get caught up in that. So I try, very simply, to just remember that every one of us is a complex creature. With fears, scars, a past that has contributed to our nature. Genetic dispositions that some of us fight like hell to overcome. 

It makes me thankful for grace. And it makes me fight against all my own natural tendencies to judge, or become exasperated with people and how they can be, and extend that grace to others.

We all have closed doors somewhere in our lives, our hearts. We may not always know what lies behind some of those in the people we know. But we know something is there. 

Be kind. 

Top 10 Tuesday: Words 

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I’m a writer. So, naturally, I love words. Here’s some things I know about them.

10. They last

When everything else fades, they can remain burned into your memory. 

You can hold a love letter in your hands. Remember. Go back in time.

It’s part of why I write about the people I know. So they have something to go back to on the days they need to be reminded that they matter to someone.

9. They help us see

Words can create imagery of all sorts of colors, using only the black and white letters on a page.

Overdescription is a pet peeve of mine though. I don’t like for an author to do all of the work that my imagination is perfectly capable of performing.

8. They help us feel

They can make us cry. Or laugh. Or feel things that we’d long forgotten. 

They can offer hope, or drag someone under the water that they are already struggling to tread.

Language is such a beautiful thing. 

7. They help us know

They can document things that need to be remembered. Facts that should be known. Information that must be shared.

6. They have power

They can bring comfort to the lonely, encourage those in despair. 

Likewise, the absence of them can bring despair, doubt, fear of what isn’t being said. 

5. They come in all shapes and sizes

They can be shouted, or whispered, or written to simply let the reader take them as they wish. 

4. They express

Poetry. Stories. Speeches. Books. Articles. Song lyrics. All art. All used to express something the writer needed to convey. If for no other reason than to release it from their soul.

3. They free

They offer apologies, and accept them. They are used to speak truth. They make up prayers. Mantras. 

2. They bind

Promises. Vows. Contractually obligate. Release from imprisonment. 

1. They’re free

But they’re not always cheap. They’re not always given away when needed the most. And they’re spoken or written sometimes in haste. 

These little things. These words. They’re life and death. Truth and lies. Love and peace or fear and hatred. Words can be full or empty. 

They can destroy or rebuild. 

May we all use them well.

Love is…..

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Love is a story. 

Happy beginnings. Sometimes, happy endings.

Plot twists. Protagonists. Antagonists. Supporting roles. 

Love scenes. Fight scenes. Laughter. Tears. 

Joy. 

Hope.

Pain. 

Despair.

Love is pushing through. Giving in. Giving up.

Knowing when to hold on. When to let go. 

Selflessness. 

Compassion.

Selfishness. 

Stubbornness.

Opportunities. Taking chances. Putting everything on the line. Abandoning reason, logic, and self, for hope. Love isn’t always blind, but faith has no choice. 

Failure. 

Restoration. 

Blazing hot flames. Dying embers.

Passionate kisses. Friendly hugs. 

Angry words. Tender moments.

Regret.

Determination. Commitment.

Sometimes each of these occupies an entire season. Sometimes, a single, passing day is a story all its own, a mixture of heartbreak and hope. 

Sometimes, beyond the valleys, there are breathtaking mountaintops. 

Sometimes, the valleys are long, deep, endless.

The valleys are the proving ground. 

There will be growth. It will divide or it will strengthen. 

Love is risk. A gamble of the heart. And each time the cards are held closer to the chest.

It’s complicated. It’s easy. 

It pursues us. Entraps us. 

But it frees us. 

The reflection we see of ourselves in love is who we are, underneath the masks we wear so well. 

Vulnerable. Exposed. Desperate. 

And yet we long to see that reflection. To know someone else, and be known in our most raw state of existence. And to be called worthy. 

The Superpower of Love

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I didn’t roll in until almost 2 a.m. Sunday morning. After fighting a really horrific headache most of the day on Saturday, I finally made good on a promise I made to my girl child: we went to see Wonder Woman.  The 10 p.m. showing. 

I knew this would be a good movie. I wasn’t disappointed. In fact, I was quite unprepared for how inspiring it turned out to be. 

I wrote, some time ago, about how my husband had imparted his love for comic books onto both me and my daughter. The lessons of these stories are profound. I’ve been surprised so many times at just how deep they can be. Wonder Woman, I think, now tops my list as the best comic book story I’ve ever seen brought to life on the big screen. And I’ve seen a lot of them.

The movie stars a female lead, and was directed by a woman. Of course these facts alone appealed to my and my daughter’s feminist leanings. 

But can a movie about a woman, directed by a woman, come across without looking like it’s trying to make a statement and yet send a message to not just girls and older women, but the whole world, loud and clear?

The answer is a resounding YESSSS.

The demigod Diana is powerful, yet naive in the beginning. She knows of the outside world only from what she has read. She wants to fix all the problems she sees. Becomes distracted from her original mission and reason for coming into the world of men. 

She doesn’t know her own strength. Not until she realizes the power, the force that opens up all of her strength, is love.

She doesn’t act superior, but she rises above what convention says a woman should be, do, or say. She doesn’t suppress who she is to make other people comfortable. 

Now, perhaps more than ever, our girls need that type of role model. One of the best parts of the entire movie was that I didn’t see Diana apologize a single time. One of the struggles with being a woman, in any era, is the expectation that our strength must be accompanied by a disclaimer. An apology. So as to not hurt the fragile egos of men. 

If there was an *unrealistic* flaw in this superhero film, that would be it. Not the fact that she didnt apologize, the reaction of the men to her strength. 

In the real world, women are told to “stay back” in so many spoken and unspoken ways. If most of us went forward the way Diana did, we’d be mocked. Scorned. And would gain a reputation as a difficult woman. A nasty woman.

She was mocked a bit, but not much. She was oblivious to it, because of the way she had been raised. With strength. With honor. And that, that is the lesson, I think. 

How we raise up our young women is what will ultimately reveal their strengths and keep them from falling into an apologetic way of living out who they are. 

Diana, like all children, had a degree of skill from her upbringing, but was ignorant of how it would actually apply to the real world beyond the safety of her home. 

But what ultimately mattered, why she was able to tap into her greatest powers, had everything to do with who she was on the inside. 

Another poignant message from the film was the notion of helping others, even when, in our own minds, they don’t deserve it.

It’s not about deserve. It’s about what you believe. And I believe in love. 

Our society is filled with the attitudes of self-centeredness. About letting people get what they “deserve”. The book I’m reading right now, Hillbilly Elegy, made me reflect on those attitudes today. They’re SO enormously prevalent, all around us. 

I’ve been on the receiving end of help many times. Even when, maybe especially when, I didn’t “deserve” it. 

Seeing people’s humanity, relating to that, and using whatever superpowers we have been given is our duty to our fellow man. It’s not about deserve. It’s about what you believe. And that is a strong message for not just girls, but all of us. 

Top 10 Tuesday: Independence Day

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I love that the 4th of July fell on a Tuesday this year. Not that I needed an excuse to write about it, but it was just convenient that it worked out that way.

This isn’t a particular *list*, but rather 10 random thoughts that I had this morning.

10. Freedom

Obviously, Independence Day is about….independence. Many people all around the globe don’t know what it’s like to live in a free society. And many people in America would tell you that the U.S. isn’t a truly independent country. 

I see their points, and certainly we have many areas of concern to overcome. But if you got up this morning and were not in immediate fear for your life, if you have planned a day of semi-leisure, if you have opportunity, albeit something that requires you to work hard, then, my friend, you are free. 

9. Family

I have the privilege of spending this day with my family. My cousin spent the night with Reagan last night. Their laughter took me back to simpler days. It always does. I am reminded of the joys of my childhood and the connection I’ve always had with my cousins. 

Though life and circumstances have divided many of us, some in a physical way, some in other ways, I still love them all. Still long for a day when I can look them all in the face and say, “What’s done is done. Love wins. Let’s truly put the past in the past.”

8. Tradition

Every year for as long as I can remember, my family has had traditions around the 4th of July. When we lived in Oklahoma, we had cookouts and fish-fries with our closest friends. 

These days our traditions center around the kids. We cook burgers, eat cold watermelon, go to the creek to cool off and let the kids play, and let them set off explosives as soon as it gets dark. 

At some point, I will also watch Yankey Doodle Dandy, for old time’s sake, and because it’s one of the best musicals ever made. If you’ve never seen it, it comes on Turner Classic Movies tonight at 7 p.m.

7. Summertime

It’s been a mild summer thus far in good ol’ Mississippi. It’s just now getting hot. Really hot.  

But along with the suffocating humidity comes the relief of “cotton showers”. The afternoon thunderstorms that, if you’re lucky, come late enough in the day to keep things cool for the rest of the evening. 

These days were made for porch sitting. Watermelon and ice cream. Fireflies. Whippoorwills. Family.

6. Appreciation

Lord knows this country is flawed. But we can dwell on the flaws or we can take some time, not just on the 4th but every day, and appreciate the good things about this nation.

Some folks may have to dig deep in order to do so. But the good is there. I urge you to find it. Cling to it. Believe in it. And let it motivate you to do whatever you can to make sure it remains. 

Our country remains highly divided following our most recent election. I’m not getting into that today. I’m just going to say that perhaps the stakes have never been higher for us to hold fast to the goodness in one another, and the desire that each of us has for a better place to leave our children. 

Thankfulness and appreciation are powerful things. Much more powerful than scorn, and indifference, and cynicism.

5. Patriotic attire

Hey, I said these were random.

Here’s the thing; I am not a *square* but I find some patriotic attire utterly trashy. If you have an American flag across your backside or B cups, that’s pretty repulsive to me. I’m all about displaying your love of country, but try to keep it classy, okay? 

I know a lot of soldiers. I’m embarrassed when I see people wearing the flag in such…..untasteful displays. 

4. Fireworks

We always had fireworks on the 4th when I was a kid. I can only recall a couple of instances where we didn’t get to shoot any because of weather conditions.

My sister and I had to entertain ourselves with those little snap poppers full of sawdust until it got dark enough to shoot the good stuff. 

I love it when my Dad takes his grandkids to buy fireworks. He’s such a kid himself and he can’t say no to them when they find something that appeals to his inner child. 

3. A day off

Work has been……hectic. I’m thankful to have a day off today. I’m also thankful for those who have to work. Not too many years ago, my husband was working retail and it seemed like every holiday was more of an exasperation than a celebration. He missed a lot of time with us. I’m glad that’s no longer the case.

But I know it isn’t true for everyone and some folks are having to stock shelves, or run registers, or work a hospital shift, or watch the highways for drunk drivers. I appreciate them all.

2. Memories

I get to spend this day with my family. Make the memories that my daughter will take with her into adulthood. Watching her is my life’s joy. 

A family will bury their mom and sister this week. This is not lost on me as I spend time with my parents. I do not register them aging before my eyes. But they are. I know that, hopefully, one day, I will be the grandparent in the scenario. And my own parents will be gone. So I soak up these days with more and more appreciation every passing year. 

1. Breakfast

The coffee has kicked in. Two teenage girls will soon be rising from their slumber. A day of summer fun awaits us all. It’s time to make breakfast for them. 

Wishing you all a day at least half as good as mine has already been. 

Enough is enough

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As a new month rolls over on the calendar, it feels like it’s time for a restart. 

In the Episcopal church, we participate in the Holy Eucharist (communion, the Lord’s Supper) every Sunday. We kneel at the altar and open our hands to receive the body and blood. The “spiritual food and drink of new and unending life in Him”. 

If your hands aren’t open, you won’t be able to receive it. And if you don’t open your heart, you won’t be able to receive it as it’s meant to be digested. 

Closed hands, hands clasped and clinging to other things cannot receive the blessings that they otherwise could hold. 

I’ve been thinking a lot about where I am in this season of my life. The past few months have been fraught with activity and days that have passed so quickly that I’ve met myself coming back, several times. Sometimes in one day.

The summer days are longer now. The sun doesn’t set until past 8 o’clock. The temptation to squeeze even more activity into an already hectic schedule is ever-present.

At the beginning of the year, I promised myself that I would take more “me time”. Unfortunately, lately, I’ve not kept that promise. 

This week, an old friend showed up. Stress. I stay in a somewhat stressed out mode a lot of the time, but this was dangerous stress. The kind that makes me physically sick. 

I know my body. I’m very much in tune to it’s warning signals. This week, all of the alarms and red flags were going off. By mid-week, I knew something was going to have to give.

So I made a couple of decisions. 

First, I developed a new organization to some of my most recently added work responsibilities. I’ve been trying to follow a pre-set mold of how this job had been done prior to my appointment to it. And I don’t do very well trying to squeeze into someone else’s mold. 

So that’s changing. I feel better about the way I’m going forward now, just by making the changes necessary to make it work for me. To give my best efforts. 

Secondly, the realization of just how fast my daughter is growing up has hit me hard lately. Her 13th year has been full of ups and downs. She’s approaching an age where she’ll have her own big decisions to make. And I want to be a lot of things for her. But mostly, I just want to be available. 

When I made the decision to start freelancing, I was in a completely different place than I am now. A multitude of changes have occurred since February. And I am an extremely stubborn person when it comes to what I want. But when that stubbornness and pride start to affect my health, and the availability I am able to offer the most important people in my life, it’s time to let go. 

Blue Inkwell is my baby. It’s a company, an idea, that was birthed from my love for writing. And the desire to have it make a difference in the lives of both myself and others. 

My tendency has been to monetize it as much as possible. That makes sense, right? To use the talents one has and capitalize on them?

And then, unexpectedly, I was promoted at my day job. Given a whole new set of responsibilities. And despite the stress,  the aggravations, I know, like I’ve never known before, that I’m right where I’m supposed to be professionally. 

In my 20 years in the workforce, I’ve never felt that way. Everything I’ve ever done was simply a stepping stone to what I hoped would be something better. I still hope that’s the case. But for the first time, I’m content in my job. It’s a hard job. It’s frazzling. But it’s never boring. And I have wonderful people around me. The chance to prove that I’m capable of more. But mostly, I have enough. The struggle for me, professionally, in the 9-5 world, has been to get to a place where I felt like I wasn’t going in a dead end direction. And finally, finally, after 20 years of busting my ass, I feel like I’ve made it out of the maze of dead ends.

But this opportunity comes at a price. And that price is letting go of something else. At least for now. At least in the way I’m currently operating my freelance business. 

I have a lot of thoughts about where I’d like Blue Inkwell to go, because I’m not closing up shop. But I am “reorganizing”. In short, I’m giving up my steady blogging side gig. Because I am no longer able to do it all and retain the small bit of sanity I still possess. 

I’ve learned, these past few months, about what kind of writer I want to be. And don’t want to be. Quitting some part of this thing feels, as quitting always has to me, like failure. But nothing could be further from the truth, though it’s taken me some time to realize it. 

The projects that I’ve taken on in a truly freelance capacity have been wildly successful. People I’ve written resumes for have gotten the interviews they want. Grants I’ve written have succeeded and been awarded and the results will make a lasting impact on my community. I’ve come to know other writers. Comrades in this crazy art world that recognize me as a real writer. Not just someone who dabbles in it on their personal blog. I’ve got the chops. I’ve proved it. I’m still proving it. With every piece I publish. 

And that, I finally concluded, that is enough for me. 

I don’t want to ever be phony. And I don’t ever want to be greedy. 

There is a spiritual element to all of this that I don’t mention much, but here’s the truth: I believe, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that there is a Divine Presence guiding me. 

Not a magic Genie. Not a big, gray-bearded man in the sky that I must appease to be blessed. 

No. A living, loving, Spirit. One that I commune with, often, about who I am and what I do. 

I’ve noticed that, whenever I’ve been faced with decisions like this one about quitting this side job, the turmoil about it can eat me alive. 

The extra money is helpful. I’ll be paying for my college degree until I die. My new job responsibilities pretty much insure that I’ll have a car note until I retire. The extra money from writing, and have it be steady, however meager, helps. 

But every time, every time, I’ve made the choice I knew in my gut was right, no matter how painful, I’ve been taken care of materially. 

I don’t think that’s coincidence. It’s happened too many times. And that is how I live my faith very much in my day-to-day life. 

Because I’m a control freak. But when I let go of my need for control, that’s when somehow, some way, often in unexpected and miraculous ways, things just……work out. 

No Nigerian Prince is putting thousands of dollars in my bank account. I don’t get a windfall of unexpected cash flow. But my needs, my family’s needs get met. 

We have enough. 

While I’d like to say that we are set for whatever storms life throws at us, I can’t. We are in that season of life of tuition, mortgages, old debt that had accrued over the years. But we work hard. We dont live outside our means. And all I have to do is look at the customer base I deal with on a daily basis and see just how blessed I am. How fortunate. How just enough isn’t something that everyone has. And we’ve never met an obstacle that we weren’t able to overcome. And my faith holds me. Because I’ve been in some rough waters. But they haven’t drowned me. And they won’t. Not because I’m better than anyone else. But because I trust in something more than myself. Though lately, I haven’t. And God seems to have this funny way of keeping me dependent on Him, in one way or another. 

I don’t think that’s a coincidence either. 

I come back to this place often. When I had to decide to have my hysterectomy, I was incredibly grieved over the decision. Despite the chronic pain I was in, it hurt my soul to know I would never bear another child. I had to decide, though, that what I had, what was already present, could be enough. 

It’s the same process here, in my writing. I’m still going to be available to write, monetarily, but only now, on a truly freelance basis. The artists that have longevity in a career are the ones that “reinvent” themselves. That’s what I’m doing now. I may never make another dime writing. But I have proven to myself that I can. And I’ve discovered this whole other part of myself that had been buried under distraction and fear and insecurity and uncertainty and given her room to breathe. To grow. To become something beautiful.

Just as I open my hands every Sunday for the Eucharist, I once again, in this season of life, open my hands, my heart, to whatever the Divine has for me. 

I don’t know yet what it will be. But I know it will be enough. And enough is enough.

Day Tripping: 10 Hours in the Delta

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Day trips. They’re an adventure that I don’t allow myself very often. But this summer, as I watch my daughter ease ever closer to the day where she’ll leave my nest, it seemed time to put other parts of my life on hold. At least on a few Saturdays over the next month or so.

I’ll be documenting our travels here, of course.

I found myself lost in thought as we hit the open road, and it was as if someone unstopped a faucet of creativity and inspiration within my artist spirit.

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I resisted the urge to write as we went. Maybe that was a mistake, I don’t know. But I don’t think so. I think I was simply meant to explore, both out in the bright June sunshine as well as the recesses of my writer’s psyche.

I wasn’t thinking about my day job. About the pile of clothes I still hadn’t put up. About what I was going to cook the next week. About anything pertaining to my daily life. I was perfectly lost within my imagination. And it was a fabulous escape.

You see, I have roots in the Delta. And they intrigue me. Beckon me. I’ve been, that I remember, to this part of my state only a total of 3 times. And only really gotten to explore once.

Even as someone who uses words as a form of artistic expression, I find it incredibly difficult to describe the feeling I get when I cross over from piney woods to the farmlands of northeast Mississippi. Every time I’ve been, even when I was a child on a rainy January day for the funeral of my great grandmother, it was as though a spell was cast over me.

The thing about Mississippi is every region of the state is vastly different. There are the farmlands of the Delta, the Piney Woods, where I live, and the coastal region bordering the Gulf of Mexico.

To step into either region outside of my own is to go a world away from where I spend most of my days. Each has their own set of beauty, rich history, and stunning landscapes.

But y’all. There’s just something about the Delta. As we passed field after field of corn and soybeans, silo after giant silo, sleepy quiet town after another, I swear I could feel the rich soil itself telling me stories. Hear the Blues. Smell the grease.

Corn Field

(photo by Reagan)

Drew

After a less than impressive start to our trip with an early lunch in Yazoo City, we made our way to Drew. My grandmother was born and raised there. My mother spent countless summers there. My great grandparents are buried there.

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(photos by Reagan)

We drove past their old home place, which I don’t recall ever seeing before that day.

We also went downtown Drew and visited the high school where Mawmaw graduated.

Drew 3

(photo by Reagan)

It’s closed now. The schools of Drew were recently consolidated with others in the area.

I was curious about the school and found this story.

I cannot speak to this issue really. I have never been part of the public school system. My daughter doesn’t attend a public school. But I will say this: there is abject poverty throughout the state of Mississippi. I see it in my own hometown on a daily basis, and more than I’d like to in my line of work.

But it is so stunningly obvious in areas like Drew, MS. And while many people think the answer is for people to just “get a job” or pull themselves out of the perpetual cycle of poverty by working their way out of it…. Well. I daresay those folks wouldn’t find it so easy if they had been raised under similar conditions.

But I didn’t bring this up to start a debate. I just mention it because some 49% – FORTY-NINE percent- of the people in Drew live at or below the poverty level. And it’s hard not to mention it. Or notice it. Or have some feeling about it when traveling through the area. And it gets me thinking about a lot of different things.

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Ruleville

From Drew we traveled to Ruleville where my great uncle is buried. One of the most interesting fellows I can remember knowing, Great Uncle Charles was intelligent. Well traveled. Someone who had a dry wit and an amused smile always on his lips.

At the cemetery in Ruleville, a monument caught my husband’s eye. It was of an angel. When we stopped to look at it, I felt weak.

The angel looks over 4 graves. One for each member of a family killed in a car accident in 2009.

I remember when it happened. Because it happened one town over from mine. Father, mother, 15 year old son, 13 year old daughter. All traveling to see relatives one minute, and then suddenly….gone..

I have never seen an entire family buried together like that before. It choked me up. I know what tragedy feels like. And it never stops hitting you in the gut, no matter how much time goes by. I thought about the ones left behind by this family. What a hole their passing left on their community.

It was an unexpected sobering moment. One that made me that much more grateful for the beautiful June sunshine and the opportunity to spend the day with my family.

Leland 

From Ruleville we traveled to Leland, taking in two rooms of Jim Henson memorabilia and embracing the artistry that the man bestowed upon a world that would fall in love with puppets. First though, we stopped at Dockery Farms and signed a guest book with signatures from China, Spain, and other wanderers from around the world. This stop on the Blues Trail is the only one we purposefully visited. This time.

Dockery Farms

(photo by Reagan)

But back to the Muppets. Y’all, I grew up with the Muppets. Kermit and Miss Piggy and Gonzo and Fozzie. Sesame Street helped me learn to read and spell and add and subtract.

I have a lot of nostalgia for these characters. Visiting the “Birthplace of Kermit the Frog” seemed like a no-brainer for this trip.

I have to say, however, that the experience was……less than satisfying. Though it was definitely amusing.

It doesn’t take much to rattle my husband. He has no shame and will act a fool just about anywhere. But when people freak him out? It’s time ta go.

The docent at the “museum” (if you can call two rooms a museum) acted like she was higher than an August-in-Mississippi electricity bill. So we didn’t linger. Bought no souvenirs. Just took Reagan’s picture with the life size Kermit and got the hell out of Dodge.

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This is Reagan’s totally freaked out face, by the way. The docent had come over and put Kermit’s arm around Reagan for the picture and it took all I had in me to not bust out laughing at the look on my child’s face when that lady starting posing that frog.

So much for nostalgia. I’ll just find a Jim Henson biography and read it.

At least we weren’t charged for admission. I read online that there was a fee….but stoner lady didn’t charge us. Pretty glad she didn’t because I would have asked for a refund.

Rolling Fork

After our stimulating experience in Leland, we made our way to Rolling Fork. We pulled over beside a rural corn field to watch a Cropduster spraying the fields around us.

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(photo by Reagan)

While in Rolling Fork, we visited a place that I’ve only seen in pictures. Until Saturday.

On a back road, in the middle of nowhere, stands Mont Helena.

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(photo by Reagan)

This breathtaking home was built on a 26 foot mound out in the middle of the delta landscape. 10 feet of the mound was removed to build the current house in 1900 after a fire destroyed the original structure. The house is open for tours, but by group reservation only. So, we contented ourselves to just take some distant photos and continue heading down Highway 61 for the last stop of the day.

Vicksburg

As the sun began to wane, we landed in Vicksburg to quench our parched tongues, and take a stroll by the river of all rivers: the Mighty Mississippi.

We had supper at Rusty’s Riverfront Grill. I’m not sure if I was just that hungry or if those really were the best fried pickles I’ve ever had, but they really hit the spot. The stuffed softball crab wasn’t too shabby either.

After supper, we took a stroll along the riverfront. Huge murals have been painted on the walls, each documenting some part of Vicksburg’s history and community. There is a fantastic park right across the street from the mural walls and a splash pad for kids as well as an impressive playground.

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Reagan and I saw several places we will be back to visit, including a quaint little bookstore. I brought her to Vicksburg once on one of our mommy/daughter trips but she doesn’t remember much about it. I look forward to going back and taking in some of the places I’ve never visited, or haven’t visited in a long time.

I think it’s pretty obvious that we crammed a lot of activity into one day. And we all felt it the next day, considering all the napping that happened.

But as it was happening, I never rushed, or set to any type of schedule. We just drove. And stopped. And talked. And drove some more. It was such a good day. So freeing to get away from the everyday demands that hold us hostage sometimes.

One of my favorite things about living where I do is the opportunity for days just like the one we had last weekend. We could take Saturday day trips every day for a year and still not have covered all the interesting places there are to see and experience within a reasonable driving distance.

And I can’t commit to every Saturday for a year, but I can commit to several over the next month or two. And I have. Because it does my soul so much good.

I think it takes me back to a simpler time and mindset. It reminds me of when my sister and I would go “exploring”. Meaning we would just walk. On the road. In the woods. Over pastures. Whatever. We’d just go.

Sure there are things that need to be done around home. Guess what? There always will be. Seize the day, my friends. See something new. Or something old. Just see something. Learn about it. Appreciate it. Laugh about it. Remember it. And share the experience with your favorite people. Because that’s the best part of all.

Drew 4

(photo by Reagan)

Top 10 Tuesday: Favorite places to be

Reagan has given me a list of topics to choose from for this weekly feature. It should keep me busy for a while. I’m also open to suggestions, so let me hear from you if you have an idea and I’ll consider incorporating it at some point. 

When I think about places I love to be, it usually involves certain people. But there are just actual places that I enjoy spending time no matter who is around me. I tried to include some of both.

10. My house

I’m becoming more and more of a homebody the older I get. I pull some long days at work. I drive a good distance to my church. So I tend to get pretty selfish with my free time anymore. 

My house is a place of no pretense. It’s not a castle. It’s not magazine worthy. But it is a place that I’m proud of and do my best to help maintain. I love my patio, views of pasture and some killer sunsets. 

I love my cozy den, the kitchen where I’ve prepared hundreds of meals, dozens of cakes, helped Reagan with more projects than I can count, and the dining room table where I turn from Collections Officer or mom or wife to writer.

I love my home. It’s where I rest after a weary day. Where I greet each new morning. Where I’ve recovered from sickness, grief, celebrated joy, cared for my family. It’s a home because the 3 of us made it so. 

9. My other home

They say you can’t go home again. That’s a lie. I do it all the time. When I’m at my breaking point, sometimes it’s the only place I can find my feet again. 

My mama’s kitchen, or in front of one of my dad’s crackling fires, or curled up on my mawmaw’s comfy sofa – I can find solace there. 

If not indoors…..

8. The woods

I spent the majority of my childhood out of doors. On the prairies of Oklahoma or in the woods of Mississippi, I did my growing up. I picked berries, waded in creeks, rode my bike more miles than I can even remember. 

Outside, especially in the woods near my childhood home, it’s a world away from how most people live. There are few places as peaceful, as restorative to my soul as nature itself. And my woods are near the top of the list.

8. The beach

One day, one day I will have a condo or house on the beach. I could listen to the waves for the rest of my life and never grow tired of it. 

The ocean itself absolutely terrifies me. There seems to be no end to it. No control. It can turn on you. But it’s breathtaking and awe-inspiring and I love how small it makes me feel. I find comfort in the thought that the world does not, in fact, rest on my shoulders.

7. My church

I can recite our services now almost verbatim. I know many of the prayers and creeds with increasing familiarity and memorization. But it’s new every week. There is a comfort in the repetition but also inspiration in how it takes on something different and unlearned for me every time I participate in a service. 

The people are so special. All as different as you can imagine, but all unified with a common love.

The music heals me. The sermon challenges me. The prayers calm me. The Eucharist nourishes me. And the people….the people fill my heart with their love and compassion and acceptance. 

6. Bookstores

New or old. Chain or independent. I don’t care as long as there are books and lots of them. 

5. With my friends

I don’t mind groups of people, but I’m better in a small circle of close friends. I look forward to my one-on-one time with my friends and with my book club. This is where my introvert spirit actually branches out some. These people don’t exhaust me. They recharge me. 

4. In a book

If you don’t think you can travel via the written word, I don’t think we can be friends. Books have taken me to times and places I’d never be able to see otherwise. Escaping life through a book is one of my favorite things to do. One of my favorite ways to unwind. And if I can’t read…

3. In my writing

I generally write from my kitchen table or my bed. Sometimes, my patio. But where I actually am, physically doesn’t matter.

Writing is a supernatural experience for me. It does the same thing for me that reading does: it takes me out of my own head and into my imagination. I’m not paying an overt amount of attention to my sentence structure or my punctuation or my “theme” most of the time. I’m just creating. And make no mistake, it’s an actual place as much as it is a process.

2. Snuggled

With my daughter. With my husband. Holding them close to me.

1. In the moment

I struggle with always looking ahead. Or back. I always have. 

I’ve been through enough, watched people I love go through enough, that I should know better. I should realize just how much the only moments we’re promised are the ones we’re experiencing right now. But I still try to get ahead of myself. And I still look back and wonder about the “what ifs” sometimes. 

I’ve noticed though, that if I can make myself really soak up the present, it really calms my anxieties. It cures me of having to have any answers except for whatever momentary questions might be. 

I try to make mental notes of how Reagan looks right now. The things she says. I try to appreciate the way my husband’s eyes crinkle up when he smiles and the way his hand feels in mine. I try to appreciate every bloom on my plants. Every perfect sunrise. Every sip of wine. Every laugh. 

Life is a gift. Our world is a gift. And right now, I’m in my favorite place of all. Here. Now. 

Top 10 Tuesday: Favorite things about Day Trips

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Starting this past Saturday, and continuing for the next several weeks, I am embarking on a series of day trips. 

For one thing, Reagan is not getting any younger. It seems as though she is insistent upon growing up. No matter how much I still see a little girl when I look at her, she is fast becoming a young woman. I won’t always have these days with her. And even if she spends most of the riding time half asleep with headphones on, these day trips are one way for us to connect. Because they are devoted not only to spending time together, but to help us each with our individual crafts.

10. The inspiration

It’s no secret that I love to write about places I go. Reagan has now taken up photography as an art form. She has an eye for the most beautiful shots. She can capture something breathtaking out of something ordinary. But we both need to expand our creative comfort zones.

Mississippi and the surrounding areas are full of possibilities for inspiration. I’m working on a post about this past weekend and will include some of her photos. So day trips are a way for us to collaborate. And it’s awesome to be able to share that with my kid.

9. The freedom 

As much as I enjoy being home, and never get to spend enough time in my own dwelling, I crave the experience of seeing things I’ve never seen. 

And there is a freedom in that. It requires the abandonment and procrastination of certain responsibilities. But we were not made for all work and no play. 

It’s a rush of excitement for me to get in the car, not really know exactly where the road might take us, and just live one mile at a time. Soak it up. Breathe it in. 

8. The quiet

If you can travel with people with whom you can share companioniable silence, it is a rare and beautiful gift.

Day trips are as much about the quiet moments as they are any other. My husband and I enjoyed some laughter as we traveled this past weekend. But there were times of silence. No pressure to maintain a conversation. And it was in those moments that I found my mind creating a host of written thoughts and observations without my even trying. The inspiration came naturally. Organically. Without effort.

The ability to just stay quiet at times helps that process. I don’t remember the last time I felt that happening while putting forth little to no effort. It was bliss.

7. The food

As a self-admitted foodie, there are countless places to try different cuisines across my section of the country. 

I didn’t do a whole lot of looking for places to stop and refuel our bodies for our most recent trip, but I try to steer clear of chains for the most part. Reagan, of course, is 13. She prefers the familiar. But she is getting better about giving the unknown a chance. Even if she gets what she would get anywhere else, everybody cooks their burger a little differently. 

6. The history 

Of the two of us, my husband is the more geeky about history. But the older I get, the more I am fascinated by it myself.  

I think it’s the storyteller within. Because to really understand what I’m looking at in some of the places we visit, I want to know the background. The stories. The how, why, and who. 

I’ll explain more about this as I write about our adventures on the road this summer.

5. The absurd

You cannot, cannot travel in the south, or anywhere for that matter, and not encounter the absurd. 

This trip? Definitely the docent at the museum we visited. I would bet good money the woman was stoned. Or had heard Kermit sing the same song one too many times (it was a Muppet museum with a video of Kermit singing on a loop). 

But one sees many amusing things while traveling. I think they’re all around us really, but we become somewhat immune to the ridiculousness that we see every day.

4. The beauty

I have seen some beautiful places. Plan to see more. Simply soaking up the views of delta farmland or a Mississippi River sunset, or the charming brick streets of an old downtown area are experiences I wouldn’t trade for anything. 

There is so much beauty out there in the world. We can sometimes get used to the most breathtaking parts of our own landscapes because we fail to really look at them. But we also forget what is just a few miles outside of our regularly traveled circles as well. I’m on a quest to find and capture moments amidst those places this summer.

3. The escape

Spending time on the road away from the familiar is like getting to be someone else. 

My brain is on all. the. time. I overthink overthinking. 

When I’m traveling, I’m thinking, but it’s a different kind of thinking. It’s wonder, amusement, awe. It’s anything but deadlines and numbers and phone calls and emails. It’s just being. 

2. The connection

This part of the country is my home. It’s part of who I am. Embedded in my very being. My family goes back generations in this state and there’s so much I want to know.

The people who make up these places I visit are my brothers and sisters. Black, white, we are all connected by this little speck of dust on the big blue orb of Earth. I feel that connection when I’m out there, searching, exploring. 

1. The simplicity

There isn’t much to see in some of the little Delta towns. Not to the average tourist, anyway. The Blues Trail is, of course, something that draws visitors from all over the world. But technically speaking, there isn’t just a whole lot in some of these little places that one would think of as fascinating. Unless you know where to look.

Unless you want to look.

And unless you have the eyes and the spirit to see them.

I’ve traveled to many different places and have at least 1,000 more I want to see before I die. So until I’m able to travel with reckless abandon for the rest of my life, I will make the most of making wider circles from home. One day trip at a time.


Thicker than Blood

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You can choose your friends but not your relatives. Right?

Well, I beg to differ.

I have made some of my friends what I consider an extended part of my family. Adopted them.

And then there are those that are my family, but not by blood. But by some other relationship. A marriage, perhaps.

But there are familial bonds that stand the test of time, circumstance, and all the things that life can do to drive wedges between people. 

My cousin Ray and I have always had a special bond. It really kind of defies explanation because we are quite different. And the older we get, the more our differences on certain opinions and philsosphies come to light. 

Ray is the older brother I never had. One of several, actually, but the male cousin I’ve stayed closest to in both relationship and physical proximity. 

Ray was always the older cousin that never made me feel like one of the “little kids”. He never teased me in a mean way, which went a long way because I felt like I was constantly picked on as a kid. In his quiet, unassuming way, he always sort of….took up for me. Even if that just meant treating me kindly.

Not that my sister or other older cousins were mean….but you know how kids are. And I always sort of felt like I was in the way. A third wheel. Or, in my family’s case (because it’s huge) a 5th wheel.

He and I are opposites in many ways. But made of the same stuff. We don’t just share DNA. We are both passionate. Both writers, whether he admits it or not. Both stubborn and opinionated. Both get exasperated with ignorance and stupidity. Both love our homes, our creeks, our rivers, our woods. And we both love our families with a fierce devotion and depth. 

I know a lot about where Ray comes from. I have an understanding and appreciation for the man he has become, because he could have been so different. I’m proud of him. Men like him are very rare.

Ray and I got married about a year apart. While my first husband and I have now been divorced for 12 years, Ray and Meredith have been together for 18+. 

When I first met Meredith, I eyed her with the usual suspicion for someone coming into my family to encroach upon the territory that is settled, comfortable, and familiar. 

But it didnt take long to go from not knowing her, to not being able to imagine our family without her. Her smile would light up the darkest room. And her laughter and good nature invaded our hearts.

Over the years, Meredith has become synonymous with Ray. Not that they’re always together. She does many things independently of him, and he of her.

But there is a natural ease between them. They have 4 children, all girls. A set of twins included. They’ve lived all over the state. They’ve built a house together. Built a family. Both beautiful. Endured heartache and pain and tragedy and miracles and have come out of all of it stronger and more solid than anyone could have predicted. 

When I got pregnant with Reagan, Meredith also became pregnant. We were happy to plan that our children would be close friends. And so they are.

Emma was born just 10 days after Reagan, and they’ve lived into the relationship and friendship that their mothers hoped would happen all those years ago.

Watching Reagan and Emma has been a little surreal. Ray and his siblings were always close to me and my sister. And history now repeats itself. 

When I was newly divorced and struggling to find my feet as a single parent, Meredith kept Reagan during the day while I worked. She was someone I never had to worry about looking after my daughter. I had other family keep her some as well and I cannot express the ease that this gave my mind. My world changed so much over those few years. It does take a village. I couldn’t have made it without mine.

If Ray is the big brother I never had, Meredith is now as much a sister to me as my own. I know, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that she would help me whenever and however she could. That she would always listen without judging, love unconditionally, and stand beside me through any storm.

Isn’t it amazing how people can come into your life, by decisions and circumstances that really have nothing to do with your own, yet invade your heart? Become a part of the tapestry and blend in so seamlessly that you just know it was fate?

She’s a woman that inspires me to be better. To not sweat the small stuff. To look for the laughter. And to always be authentically myself.

Ray is that comfortable familiarity of home. Someone that I know will always have my back. Someone that loves me like the kid sister he never had. 

Blood is thick, this much is certain. But so are other bonds. And love, whether we share the same blood or not, is thicker.